Each time I come home for a visit, I go on the lookout for what has changed. Maybe my sister has redecorated a room, or maybe a new building has gone up. A new restaurant might have opened or there is something new to taste. I am usually either happy or neutral about these things, but sometimes . . . rarely . . . someone decides to muck around with a sacred place/thing – and that is simply a no-go. So it was with some trepidation that I went to the public museum to see the “new” Streets of Old Milwaukee.
That place had a magical quality for me in my childhood. It seriously captured my imagination and I wandered around in my own personal fantasy world whenever I was there. I assume every person who has grown up in this city has some childhood memory of that exhibit – some detail that they looked forward to visiting again and again, or pointing out to their own kids later in life. For my sister it was the eyeglasses, for many others it was the slightly creepy Granny rocking away on her porch. (Does she keep rocking at night when no one is there? Does she stand up and go in the house?) For my daughter, somewhat unfortunately, her strongest memory is the Milk Duds in the candy store. For me it was the kite stuck up in the tree.
(Though here, I have had no success in finding any pictures of it or anyone who remembers it besides me, so I am starting to doubt my own memories. Once again! – My mom insists that we didn’t drive to Florida – as I wrote about in an earlier blog – until after my father’s death, and that I am probably mixing up different trips in my mind.)
So one of our first stops this visit was the museum and I was really pleased with the remaking of the Streets. Cool new additions were the cable car entrance taking you back in time as went through. The old “Bijou” showing black and white silent movies was great too. More workshop type stores had been added to reflect the city’s industrial past. We slowly worked our way toward the tree on the square. I looked up. There was no kite in it.
I’m seriously considering writing to the curator – first to ask if, in fact, there had ever been a kite, and secondly, to ask them to please put it back.
Unfortunately, my mini-freak-out was intensified this visit when I realized that a second of my sacred places was being blasphemied (blasphemized? blasphemed?)
The first time I toured my sister’s house, I fell in love with a window seat. (After reading one of those classic novels as a child – was it Wuthering Heights? Or Little Women? Maybe Jane Eyre? – I decided that every self-respecting house must have two things: a window seat and room under the staircase.) Over the years I have spent hours seated there, reading, writing, or just people-watching. On weekdays, the park across the street was a quiet place with only a smattering of visitors at any one time. There were some usual customers that I got to know: the fat old guy in a baseball cap with his two or three Chihuahuas. The skinny guy who did yoga and meditation in the early morning hours. The elderly couple who always sat on the same bench and looked out at the lake, never talking to one another. The young woman on a blanket, basking in both the sun and her college textbooks . . .
In between them and the street, a constant flow of joggers, bikers, dog walkers, and stroller pushers passed from right to left or left to right. They all added up to a manageable amount and the street stayed quiet until the weekend, when it suddenly became a crowded parking lot for beachgoers.
Well, now, this year, it is always the weekend. Cars everywhere, people omnipresent – all with cell phones in their hands which they hold out in front of them and peer intently into as they walk. They are mostly quiet and docile, but their sheer numbers have chased away all the usual park patrons. Gone is yogaman and the baseball cap with barking rats. Gone are the studiously tanned and the silent lake gazers. Joggers and bikers seem to have found new routes with fewer oblivious obstacles to swerve around. Every night, these pokey walking dead have to be chased out of the park when it closes at 10 pm. This is done with quite a few police cars, their lights flashing and bullhorns roaring, their floodlights sweeping the grassy grounds to find those hardcore gamesters in hiding. Things finally quiet down and a few hours later – sometime after midnight – the first cars start slinking surreptitiously back and parking. You can just make out a little of the faces inside, dimly lit in the glow of the cell screens . . .
I know almost nothing about how this game is played and have only seen in on a cell screen once. Deputy Jo, one of the policewomen on this new beat, showed it to me, adding “I can’t believe my job required me to learn this game!” She also filled us in on why so many of the players congregate in this particular park. It is the absolute epicenter of the game in this city for reasons not interesting enough to go into here. But the police are on it now – not that there is much they can do. Basically, it is just a matter of waiting until the fad fades or is replaced by something newer and epicentered elsewhere. Let’s hope it is not something like Harry Potter’s “Horcrux -Hunt” which would surely bring on the masses, leaving us pining for this pitifully small smattering of pokey people.
The third insult to my childish nostalgia (of course there were three!) was the new and improved bubbler in the park across the street. It is an abomination and I refuse to even take a picture of it. My second email to some official is in the works. “Hey City People! What’s up? This is what a Milwaukee bubbler is supposed to look like:
Please correct this situation and make it snappy!”
I am happy to be able to end on an up note. After all these tribulations, one element of my childhood nostalgia has stayed exactly the same: the high school locker. When my daughter went to her orientation, we spent quite a while helping her get the hang of those locks. Two turns to the right – stop at the first number, turn to the left – go past the second number once and stop at it on the second pass – turn back to the right and stop at the third number. Then nudge it just a point or two farther and pull up on the latch. It was bewildering for her at first and so utterly comforting to me. When she finally succeeded in getting it open, I discovered my childhood memories stored inside, all snug and safe. Unfortunately, the drive to Florida wasn’t in there, so I’ll have to get back to you about that question. But I do know that my own high school locker was yellow and that the combination was 12 – 24 – 38.